ST LOUIS – Pedro Florimon, the front of his uniform covered in dirt from seven innings at shortstop, stood on the mound in the bottom of the eighth inning and Friday night's 12-4 loss to the Cardinals officially became a blowout.
The Phillies played sloppy defense, their bullpen allowed eight runs, and their offense provided little spark as they missed out on a chance to move into first place. And the ugly night ended with Florimon, a position player, pitching the final three outs.
Florimon needed just 14 pitches to retire the three batters he faced in a perfect eighth inning. He was the team's most dependable reliever as he pitched for the second time this season. Florimon followed his inning on the mound with a homer in the ninth, becoming the first Phillies relief pitcher to homer since Rick Wise in 1970. Omar Olivares homered in 1995, but the relief pitcher's homer that day came as a pinch hitter.
It's never a good sign when a utility player is forced to pitch, but the Phillies can find some solace that Friday's loss was not as rough as the Florimon's first outing this season. He recorded the final three outs of the opening series in Atlanta, pitching in the game when manager Gabe Kapler inserted Hoby Milner without first warming him up. Friday night did not feel like that night in Atlanta.
Friday's loss could have been much worse after Jorge Alfaro exited with a knee injury, but Kapler said Alfaro is OK. The catcher's knee landed awkwardly in the dirt just before the backstop in the fourth inning when he slid to retrieve a wild pitch. Alfaro hobbled to his feet and limped, causing manager Gabe Kapler and a team trainer to rush on the field. Alfaro brushed them off, stayed in the game, and was lifted two innings later with what the Phillies labeled as "right knee soreness."
Losing Alfaro, who has shown some real promise over the last few weeks, would be a huge blow. Alfaro and Andrew Knapp are the only catchers on the 40-man roster and the organization's catching depth is thin in the minor leagues.
"He's going to be just fine," Kapler said. "That was precautionary as well. It was messy conditions out there. We just wanted to get him out of there to be cautious."
The Phillies remain a half game behind Atlanta for first place in the division after the Braves fell to the Marlins. It's only May and standings are far from important, but a move into first place would have been a nice reward for a team that entered Friday winners of eight of their last 10. Jake Arrieta lasted just three innings and the offense did not score until they trailed by five runs. The game never felt within reach.
Odubel Herrera hit a two-run double in the fifth to reach base for the 44th-straight game, tying Chuck Klein's mark from 1931 for the fourth-longest streak in team history. Cesar Hernandez added a homer in the seventh to put the Phillies within six runs.
Arrieta threw just 64 pitches in an outing plagued by rain and bad luck. The game started after a 95-minute rain delay and the storm returned during the early innings. Arrieta pitched through the drizzle as the defense made two errors behind him. The Cardinals chased Arrieta with a four-run third inning, which Arrieta needed to exhaust 37 pitches to record three outs. The inning was extended by Scott Kingery's throwing error on a groundball to third which would have ended the inning after just two runs.
"It's just a move think about his longterm well being and strength," Kapler said. "I felt like it was the right move for him and our club to get him out of there. We expect him to be pithing for us in September and October so we want to look out for him."
Each of the team's last three losses have come in games started by Arrieta, but the pitcher had little fault in the previous two as they were blown saves by Hector Neris. Arrieta did not blame the rain as both teams had to play through it, he said. He simply said he "wasn't that good."
"It's just one to forget, really," Arrieta said. "…We had a pitcher hit a home run tonight which was nice."
Drew Hutchison, the team's seldom-used long reliever, allowed five runs on six hits in three innings. His wild pitch to Tommy Pham – the one that injured Alfaro – allowed a run to score. Francisco Pena homered to make it 6-2 and Jose Martinez' home run put the Phillies down by seven runs. Yacksel Rios allowed three runs, including a homer in the seventh to Kolten Wong. He was optioned after the loss to triple A and will likely be replaced before Saturday's game by Victor Arano, who joined the team in St. Louis and is ready to be activated from the disabled list.
With the game out of reach, Kapler found Florimon in the dugout and asked if he could pitch the eighth. The Phillies wanted to avoid further taxing their bullpen. They had Florimon throw off a bullpen mound during spring training and Kapler said after Florimon's first outing that he would pitch again this season. And Saturday night proved to be it.